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Brain Game: Leland eighth-graders compete in National Science Bowl Regional Competition

Leland Middle School eighth-grader Mya Thrall enjoys watching “Jeopardy!” and playing “Trivial Pursuit” with her family. On Feb. 4, she put her scholastic knowledge to the test while competing for prizes.

Thrall was one of five eighth-grade students from Leland Middle School who participated in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s National Science Bowl Regional Competition on Feb. 4 at the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont. This was the first year Leland Middle School competed.

The five team members were Abbie Hallowell, Brandon Larson, Jenny Rosales, Fernando Silva and Mya Thrall. The team was coached by Julie Jansen, Leland’s seventh- and eighth-grade math, science and social studies teacher.

Jansen first learned about the competition by email. After applying and registering to compete, Jansen chose the five students enrolled in an advanced math class for the team. They all excel at both math and science. Jansen met with the students for more than two weeks during their lunch period to study and prepare for the competition.

“They are a superb group of kids,” Leland Principal Chris Bickel said. “The competition is a great opportunity for them to shine in the public and to represent Leland. It introduces and familiarizes them with STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] topics and lets them try something new.”

This year, there were 48 middle school and 68 high school regional competitions, with more than 14,000 students competing.

The National Science Bowl was started 27 years ago as a way to interest youth to pursue careers in math and science. The winning teams of the national championship competition will win adventure trips to Alaska and national parks across the country, trophies, medals and supplies for their schools’ science departments.

The schools compete against each other by quickly buzzing in and answering questions from a range of science disciplines, including biology, chemistry, earth and space science, physics, energy and math. Teams consist of four students, one alternate and a teacher who serves as an adviser and coach.

Fernando Silva, who moved to Leland this year with his family, said that competing was a fun way to get to know his classmates.

“I like that I have teammates that can help, that if one person doesn’t know the answer, another person can buzz in and answer,” he said. “I like that it allows me to work together with my teammates.”

Schools that competed in the regional competition included Leland Middle School, Bednarcik Junior High School from Aurora, the Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy in Aurora, the Daniel Wright Middle School from Lincolnshire, Jerling Junior High School from Orland Park, Troy Middle School from Plainfield and Roosevelt School from River Forest.

Leland was the smallest school competing in the competition, yet they won two out of five of their matches.

Jansen said that competing against larger schools might be intimidating at first, but by preparing for weeks, her students were ready to accept the challenge.

“Many of the students competing from other schools had try-outs to make the team,” she said. “Now that we know of this competition, we can start preparing for it earlier in the school year and continue participating in it as long as we have students interested.”

The Daniel Wright Middle School from Lincolnshire won the regional competition. They will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national competition. The school won the regional competition for the fourth year in a row. Last year, they took first place in the National Science Bowl competition in Washington, D.C.

The students compared the scholastic bowl competition to participating in team sports, like basketball and soccer. Students Brandon Larson and Jenny Rosales saw the similarities, but Abbie Hallowell noticed the differences.

“Scholastic bowl is similar to sports because we have to have a strategy and are on a team,” Larson said. “The competition isn’t something you can do by yourself. You need the whole team to work together.”

“Both sports and this take practice,” Rosales said. “We meet up, we study, we practice together. But instead of training our bodies, we’re training our brains.”

“Answering science and math questions is different because it is based off our knowledge, not our athletic ability,” Abbie Hallowell said.

Jansen said team members enjoyed the competition and look forward to participating in the academic bowl in high school.

“This was an excellent way to introduce them to scholastic bowl,” Jansen said. “When they get to high school next year, they’ll be ready to put together a team. I was very proud of the students’ effort in preparing for this event as well as their results.”

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